The profound cultural and political changes of the 1960s brought the United States closer to social revolution than at any other time in the twentieth century. The country fragmented as various challenges to state power were met with increasing and violent resistance. The Cold War heated up and the Vietnam War divided Americans. Civil rights, women's liberation, and gay rights further emerged as significant social issues. Free love was celebrated even as the decade was marked by assassinations, mass murders, and social unrest.
At the same time, American cinema underwent radical change as well. The studio system crumbled, and the Production Code was replaced by a new ratings system. Among the challenges faced by the film industry was the dawning shift in theatrical exhibition from urban centers to surburban multiplexes, an increase in runaway productions, the rise of independent producers, and competition from both television and foreign art films. Hollywood movies became more cynical, violent, and sexually explicit, reflecting the changing values of the time.
In ten original essays, American Cinema of the 1960s examines a range of films that characterized the decade, including Hollywood movies, documentaries, and independent and experimental films. Among the films discussed are Elmer Gantry, The Apartment, West Side Story, The Manchurian Candidate, To Kill aMockingbird, Cape Fear, Bonnie and Clyde, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Midnight Cowboy, and Easy Rider.
American culture changed radically over the course of the 1960s, and the culture of Hollywood was no exception. The film industry began the decade confidently churning out epic spectacles and lavish musicals, but became flummoxed as new aesthetics and modes of production emerged, and low-budget youth pictures like Easy Rider became commercial hits.
New Constellations: Movie Stars of the 1960s tells the story of the final glory days of the studio system and changing conceptions of stardom, considering such Hollywood icons as Elizabeth Taylor and Paul Newman alongside such hallmarks of youth culture as Mia Farrow and Dustin Hoffman. Others, like Sidney Poitier and Peter Sellers, took advantage of the developing independent and international film markets to craft truly groundbreaking screen personae. And some were simply “famous for being famous,” with celebrities like Zsa Zsa Gabor and Edie Sedgwick paving the way for today’s reality stars.